If you are like most businesses you probably have accounts for your business on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Linkedin, Google+ and perhaps YouTube. You may have them simply because everyone says you should or you may have some kind of content strategy that includes distribution of your blog posts or images to social networks so that more of your followers are aware of your content and can like or share it (hopefully).
These are some great reasons to be on social networks but unfortunately this is where too many businesses (and individuals) lose track of the whole purpose of them. When your primary focus is sales and strategy by the numbers you tend to forget about the human element. The Internet provides us tools like Google Analytics that allow us to use data to really hone our sales materials and methods and improve our ROI and that is awesome but these abilities also tend to dehumanize the entire sales process.
I always remember Myspace in this context because that site was the first really big success (and failure) in social networks. Myspace laid the groundwork and set the habits of many people in terms of social networking goals and behavior. I was writing about music during the heyday of Myspace and I think the music industry, especially at the level of undiscovered acts makes a good analogy to use with small business.
Back then on Myspace there was a sort of feeding frenzy going on. Everyone was all about building a fan base and whoever had the biggest number of followers was perceived to be the most successful. Too many people fell victim to what I termed the “rock star syndrome”. What I meant by that was they got to be more than a little conceited with their own numbers and thought that equaled fame and success and pretty much ignored all of their followers. They thought it was enough just to post a new song now and then along with the occasional tour schedule and other tidbits of information about themselves.
On the other side of the coin the fans were not really fans. Most of them (myself included) would accept every friend request they got from anyone because it was cool to have a lot of bands as friends. In my case it gave me an endless pool of sources for articles on new music. Unfortunately it was also very easy to forget most of them because there were so many and so few actually ever personally engaged with any of their followers.
Everyone looked to the big brands as examples and tried to model their own strategy on the web after what the successful music acts (or their labels) were doing. That was a big mistake because, while everyone would love to be one of those big name stars, trying to emulate them just doesn’t work.
I routinely saw bands who were producing really good music and had a fan base of 50,000 or 100,000 followers on Myspace only get a few hundred plays when they posted a new song. It seemed so counter-intuitive to think that out of your many fans only a very few actually ever listened to your music and even fewer than that ever commented or shared them. At the same time big name acts got millions of plays and their fans were constantly commenting on their timeline and sharing and liking and browbeating all their friends into becoming fans.
That is the power of a well developed brand. Fans accept that the “star’ never actually knows them or talks to them online and they are pretty much good with that. If they do get a thank you or a response to a post they make on the performer’s timeline they accept that it is done by “people” who work for the label, not the performer.
The same thing is true for businesses. If you follow a large business on a social network you pretty much assume that it is not going to be the owner or CEO of that company who talks to you online. It will be employees of the company and you are of course good with that. If you interact with posts made by the company you spend a lot more time discussing the post with other followers of the company than you do talking to actual representatives of the company (usually).
The unknown performers that were the most successful on Myspace were the ones who actually did get to know as many of their online fans as they could and who invested the time required to do it. Live performances were always the place where they got to interact with their fans in the most direct manner and where they always made the most ardent new fans and sold the most CD’s and merch. That was the model they needed to bring to the web, personal interaction. Those who did it the best were the ones who found actual success.
In a business context it is the difference between customers who visit your brick and mortar location and those who know you only from the web. Most small business owners get to know their regular customers. They can greet them by name when they stop in to buy a loaf of bread or a new pair of shoes. They trust you to know how to best meet their needs.
That element is what is missing in online business unless you decide to put it there. Technology has given small businesses access to the global marketplace but replaced face to face human interaction with a sort of “have your machine talk to my machine” way of doing business. Today this is changing as tools like live chat and live video become readily available to small business owners. This enables face to face business on the web that is not that far removed from an actual visit to your store and will be a game changer for those who implement it correctly.
Too many people took the “more is better” philosophy to heart and after Myspace pretty much collapsed they carried it over to Facebook and Twitter. It was all about the numbers and the social gurus put out endless information on how to build numbers and get likes and shares from “followers”. No names, just “followers”
It is only recently that terms like “interaction” and “relationship building” have come to the forefront of the discussion in social media circles as if it was some new discovery. It isn’t. It has always been the secret to success on social networks. Even though this is the “new” wave in social media there seems to be precious little real information on how to implement it.
I think that implementing a social media strategy that includes getting yo know your customers is not that hard or even much more time consuming than what you are already doing on social networks. The first step is to see your followers as people, not numbers. Doing that allows you to start to build relationships with them. It is not that different from life in the real world if you take that perspective (this applies equally to both B2B and B2C businesses).
If you think about how you mentally manage all of the people in your day to day life you will see what I mean. You kind of automatically assign people to various circles of familiarity. You have family and close friends, work friends, acquaintances, etc. In your business you have customers who you see on a regular basis, those who you see occasionally, those who walk into your store for the first time and those who only browse or just want to hang out in your establishment without ever buying anything. You can do this on your social networks as well and interact with the members of each group as appropriate.
When someone walks into your brick and mortar store do you greet them personally and ask if there is anything you can do to assist them? You can do that same thing every time someone likes your Facebook page or adds you to a circle on Google+. I don’t mean do it by creating a canned response either. That is like playing a recorded message every time someone walks into your store; “hello…how…may…we…assist…you…”. Not exactly the personal touch, is it? I mean actually go and look at their profile and learn a little bit about them and send them a note saying thanks for the follow and asking them if there is anything you can help them with.
When you post something on your social networks you can see who likes or shares it and put a like on their share or thank them for it. If someone was in your store and they mentioned that they had told someone about your business how would you respond? Would you say thanks and show your appreciation or say nothing at all and basically ignore them and look past them to the next customer as though all that matters to you is getting their money into your hand?
I can see the effectiveness of this kind of personal interaction strategy in both my own online business and those of my clients. The ones who take the time to actively engage with their social networks are the ones who find real success there.
I was looking at two business the other day, one who is a client and the other who is a competitor. The competitor has over 50,000 likes on facebook and makes regular posts there but has virtually no interaction from or with their many followers. My client is a very outgoing person who only has 3,500 followers on Facebook but more than half of her followers are regularly engaged with every post she makes commenting, sharing and liking. She responds to them all and has conversations with them on Facebook and off. As a result a great deal of her online business comes from Facebook.
I have adopted this same strategy. I have my website set to automatically distribute new content to my social networks because it saves time. When I get interaction from a follower though I do not have automatic responses set up and I take the time to look at their profile on the network and say hi to them along with a message that lets them know I have taken the time to learn a little about them. The results have been great. I have met some really interesting people that way and while most of them have not become instant customers I have the basis of building a relationship with them and can assign them to my own mental circles.
I have also implemented live chat on my website so new visitors can ask a question via text, voice or video. I think that this opportunity to interact live with site visitors will be part of the next step in the evolution of social networking. Once people can take the experience of walking into a brick and mortar store and being greeted by the owner or an employee and being able to ask questions and get answers in real time and bring that same experience onto the web it will be a real game changer for small businesses who take advantage of it.
IF you have any thoughts on this article please leave a comment or hit me up via text/voice/video and let’s talk. If you would like to implement this kind of social networking strategy on your own website and social networks I will be happy to help you with that too.